Great Wall Marathon 2013, originally uploaded by bexadler.

This past weekend I ran a half marathon on the Great Wall with some friends of mine from Shenyang and thought I should post something about it since this is one of those destination type races. I figure if there are any of you out there who want to do it, maybe I can offer some advice for how to train.

I trained for this race for 3 months, but still ended up with super sore legs. This is because I was lax in my stair training. I kept telling myself that I’d do stairs, but then I’d do two flights of stairs, maybe three and give up. I would not recommend my approach. No matter how in shape you are for the running portions, if you do not do some hills and stairs before the race, you will be sorry. The race begins with 3 miles (5KM) of uphill running that takes you onto the wall for about 2 miles (2,582 steps). The views are beautiful and it gets crowded here, so you may as well stop and take a couple of pictures. The stairs are steep so the traffic is stop and go for most of the wall portion. Just to illustrate, these first 5 miles (8KM) took me 1:20 to complete. Normally I finish 5 miles in about 45 minutes.

After you leave the wall, the course is straight and flat for a couple of miles and it is a huge relief after feeling like you can’t move on the wall. It also will give you a chance to regain some of your lost time. However, there are some rocky dirt roads about 3 miles (5KM) into the flat portion, along with some more hills, so I would recommend doing some trail running as well. I was definitely slowed down by the rocky terrain and worried that I’d twist an ankle. This portion, however, is one of the best parts of the race because it goes through a small Chinese village.

The village children and many of the adults were outside watching all of us crazy laoweis running on a chilly Saturday morning. Some were cheering and some were just there to watch the spectacle. The children were my absolute favorite part of the race and kept me smiling throughout. There were some who sat alongside the road and shouted “Hello!” at each runner who passed (I shouted back “Ni Hao,” which made them laugh), while many others held out their hands to give high fives to the runners. Some of the adults even got in on the action, shouting “Zai Zher! Zai Zher!” This is the Chinese equivalent of “Go!” I was personally shocked to see so much support from the community, but also grateful that they were there. The race does not have many outside spectators because the organizers charge an entry fee to be a spectator, and it is a steep fee, so it was nice that the community got involved and cheered us on. No race is complete without spectators to help cheer you on, especially near the end.

For those of you interested in the full marathon, be aware that you must do the wall portion twice. My friend did the full and he said it was one of the hardest races he’s ever done. He added a full hour to his best finishing time and finished in 4:30. He said the difficult part was that you get into a good rhythm on the flat portion and then when you get back to the wall and have to start on the stairs it makes you light-headed because you feel like you come to an almost complete stop. Even though by then the wall was not crowded, he was still slowed by the stairs because of their steepness, which made it so he had to really concentrate on watching where he was going. This is also at mile 20, so you’re already exhausted at this point.

Despite the difficulty, this was one of the best races I have ever run. It was incredibly well organized and included a lunch and showers afterward, which was a relief since it was a 2.5 hour bus ride back to Beijing after the race. The only disappointing thing was that it was almost exclusively foreigners running it. As I’ve written before, the Chinese aren’t really runners. Still, I’d hoped that there would be more locals participating. Anyway, I would definitely recommend this race to anyone who is considering doing a destination marathon. Just be sure you train properly for it. Also, for those of you who are expats, be sure to email them to get the resident price, rather than paying for the full tour. It’s an expensive race regardless, but no need to pay for a week-long tour of Beijing if you’re already living here.

Finishing time: 3:09:49 (my worst finishing time since my first half 6 years ago).
Next up: Dingle Marathon in Ireland!

*laowei – foreigner
*Ni Hao – hello


In Melbourne I was staying in what looked like a rough neighborhood. Apparently it’s just rundown looking because it’s hipsterville and they like it that way. There were a couple of pluses to where I was staying: 1. I got to take a ton of pictures of awesome street art like the one above. 2. It was only two blocks from the climbing gym where I found my ride to The Grampians (double score!). 3. It was less than a half-mile to a great running spot.

Nobody at the hostel knew of any good running spots, but luckily I had free wifi there (first hostel in Australia with free wifi – one of the only good things I can say about this hostel) so I was able to look at our location on Google maps. As I’ve learned in my last couple weeks of traveling, the most likely spots for long bike/running trails are along waterfronts. Only a few streets up from where I was staying I could see that there was a reserve for the Yarra River called Yarra Bend Park, so I made my way over there early one morning.

Running along this river reminded me so much of my early morning runs in Sacramento – only with parrots and wallabies instead of coyotes and sandhill cranes. It was a fantastic 9-mile run that ended with me getting a little turned around (I have NO sense of direction). There were only a couple of other runners on the trail, but I think that was more indicative of it being a weekday than of runners not frequenting the park. I think this was one of my favorite runs of the trip so far and definitely saved Melbourne in my eyes. I loved that there was a view of the cityscape from the trail and really enjoyed the juxtaposition of the busy city with a beautiful nature area. Plus, there were rainbow-colored parrots. Did I mention the parrots?

P.S. One big bummer about Melbourne was finding out that there was a Marathon the weekend I was heading to Tasmania. I would have loved to do another race in a big city (races sure beat long runs, yes?).

Kevyn Ready for the Race, originally uploaded by bexadler.

On Sunday Melissa and I ran in the half marathon portion of the Blackmore’s Sydney Running Festival. The two of us have been keeping up on our running during this trip, with some tapering n the week leading up to the race. However, we both felt like we underperformed at the race. I got one of my worst recent half marathon times at 2:22:14. In July I was on course to run a 2:19 half. While I realize this isn’t a huge difference I was disappointed in my performance. I’d hoped to get closer to a 2:15 time. I’d like to blame the heat and the hills, but I’m sure that some of my problem was all of the alcohol I’ve consumed in the last couple of weeks. While I haven’t drank in excess, I also haven’t been drinking enough water, which has left me feeling dehydrated on most days. As a result my quads have really been feeling it ever since the race. I don’t think my legs have felt this sore from running since I did my marathon back in December – not good.

Aside from my poor performance though, the race was pretty fabulous. We hadn’t really had a chance to run within the central part of Sydney, as we’d been staying in a suburb to the north, so it was nice to see a large part of the city on race day. We started at Milson’s Point on the north side of the harbor, then ran over the Sydney Harbour Bridge and finished at the Sydney Opera House. The recovery area was in the Botanical Gardens, which we otherwise wouldn’t have had a chance to see during our trip. The finishing area was rather unorganized and difficult to navigate, especially when you’re looking for someone sans telephone in a sea of 30,000 other runners. It was a beautiful day for running, although with a high of about 75F I was grateful to have been in the half marathon group rather than the full.

I put my training shoes back on today and am hoping to make it to the full in December, although I have to admit that the half marathon on Sunday was rather discouraging. I found myself asking time and again whether I really had the courage to even try for another full marathon. I’m going to keep up my training (and pay more attention to my hydration!) in the hopes that I will indeed toe the starting line of that race in December. I guess my half in Auckland in October will be an easy test to see if I’ve got it in me…

I arrived in Auckland at about 6 o’clock this morning, which meant I had several hours of waiting before I could check into my hostel. Having already realized this on the plane, I figured I’d put my luggage in storage and then go for a good, long run. This was partially to kill time, but was also because I feel like taking a run through town is one of the quickest ways to get my bearings in a new city. So I studied my guidebook’s map of the city while on the plane to try to figure out a good path for my first New Zealand run. The book suggested Auckland Domain, being as that it’s supposedly a big hit among local runners, so this is what I opted for, especially since the park looked super close to my hostel on the map.

When I got to my hostel and double checked with the front desk about the location of the Auckland Domain, the guy looked at me funny and said I’d probably prefer to run along Quay Street. I let him give me directions, but only half listened because I’m stubborn and fully planned to go to The Domain anyway.

The good news was that The Domain was indeed close to my hostel – a little less than a mile. The bad news was that The Domain is hilly hell for runners (if it really is the runner hotspot in Auckland, then they must be masochists). I did a mile inside the park, with a good portion of that being me trying to find the quickest way out of there without having to turn around. Once I exited the park I hightailed it to Quay Street, which was quite the pleasant run, albeit very straight (Who knew the hostel guy would be right?).

I think what I liked most about running along Quay Street was that when you cross over to the waterfront side of the street you don’t have to deal with crosswalks anymore. My pace was seriously screwed today because of the constant waiting for traffic signals. Some big pluses though were that I finally got to use my iPod Shuffle and my spiffy new Nike+GPS watch, which worked magnificently. I’m looking forward to making a beeline straight for the waterfront tomorrow. Hopefully I can get a little more distance in now that I won’t be spending a good portion of my run just trying to figure out where the heck I am…

This is not my community pool.

This is not my community pool.

So… I’ve been having a ton of pain in the knuckle of my big toe lately. Super not fun for a runner. I’m not certain about the cause, but WebMD tells me it could be one of the following: bone spur (need surgery, super not fun), gout (change my diet completely), or a forming bunion (best option if one must be chosen). I’m going with bunion for now and I’m pretty sure if that’s the case then it’s being caused by my oh-so-uncomfortable rock climbing shoes (which I am definitely not giving up despite the pain). With that said, I’ve decided to take on some low impact exercising (read: swimming) to take some of the strain off my poor little feetsies and release them from their shoe prisons while I train for this next marathon.

I don’t know about you, but I HATE the summer heat. I mean, I get up at 5 a.m. to go run before work and it’s already too hot out. Maybe that is just me… Anywho, I still think I chose the best time ever to decide to take up swimming (104 degrees F in Sacramento today?!). And, the best news is I don’t even have to belong to a gym or a fancy country club. I did a search for public pools in Sacramento and there are A TON – and it’s only $2 for lap swimming. Sign me up already! Actually, even better news: The pool  right in the center of the park where I run (which I somehow never knew existed until now) is HUGE. It’s 12 lanes of glorious coolness just waiting for me to escape the summer heat. Trust me, this is the best “hidden secret” of Sacramento that I have yet discovered. Thank you public tax dollars for actually doing something useful.

When I first began running I would do a 5K or a 10K at least once a month, if not more often. I really enjoyed the feeling of accomplishment that came with being able to finish a race, no matter how short. But in recent years, especially as I began training for my first marathon, I had let these shorter races go to the wayside. I began to feel that the cost and the hassle associated with race day (getting up early, dealing with traffic and crowds, etc.) wasn’t worth it for a 30-minute race. And so I stopped signing up for 5Ks…until recently.

In the past two weeks I have run two 5K races, and they actually seemed incredibly hard despite the short distance. The reason for this, in my case, is that I run much faster at a 5K race than I do at longer distance races. I know that the race will be over shortly and I tell my internal pacer that it’s OK to go all out. While I have steadily shaved seconds and minutes off of my half marathon time in the last two years, I haven’t set a Personal Record for the mile or for the 5K since 2009.

With this in mind I signed up for a 5K two weekends ago and then again for one today with a couple of friends. At the 5K two weekends ago I had hoped to beat my Personal Record, which has been 30:20 for nearly three years. Alas, it didn’t happen, with me finishing in 31:56. Given the fact that I began marathon training this week and my poor performance at the last 5K, I didn’t give myself much of a chance of besting my Personal Record this morning, but I still told my friends I wanted to try to finish in under 30 minutes.

Both of the women I ran with today are much stronger runners than me, and with their encouragement (and the competitiveness of running among friends) I was able to keep up with them for the first two miles, which I truly believe finally gave me the edge to beat my PR. In the end, they finished a little less than a minute ahead of me, but I still made it in under 30 minutes! They were both cheering for me and, for the first time in a long time, I had my arms up cheering at the end of the race, yelling toward them, “I did it!” I also finally broke the 9-minute barrier for the mile (barely), which has evaded me since the same 5K where I ran the 30:20. Today was a seriously great running day that gave me a renewed appreciation for the shorter races – and for running partners! Another plus is that it gave me more confidence in my ability to pick up the pace.

As I continue to train for my next marathon, I hope I can remember the importance of the small achievements as well – and the confidence boost they can give.

New PR for the 5K: 29.19
New PR for the mile: 8.59
Miles run this week: 18

Yesterday was the 7th annual Shamrock’n Half Marathon. It was my fourth half marathon so I was really hoping to get  at least a 2:15 time. Unfortunately, I started getting lazy on my training in recent weeks so I only pulled in a 2:21:52. I was still happy with that though because it was still 2 minutes better than my New Orleans time from just four weeks ago. I was with the 2:20 pace group until the last two miles where I started to really fall behind. I took mile 11 really slow and then tried to kick it in for the last mile, where I think I might have made up a little bit of that time, but not enough to get back into the 2:20 group.

Two things about running a long race without proper training: soreness and injuries. I’m definitely feeling the effects of the race this morning. My legs are pretty sore this morning, which was something I never had happen when I was training for my marathon, not even on 20-mile runs. The other thing is that I totally forgot about my sweet spots for chafing. I only remembered body glide on two of my major spots so I ended up with huge swaths of chafing across my rib cage and my waist where my sports bra and pants rubbed the whole time. Sleep last night was definitely not fun because I couldn’t find a single spot to lie on that didn’t sting. Hopefully I’ve learned my lesson and will always remember those spots in the future. Other than that it was a pretty great race. I had a couple of friends do it with me and they finished with great times. So happy for all the runners who made it to the finish yesterday. Good job!

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